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Parshat VaYikra- Hearing, Heeding and Doing

03/20/2024 09:39:07 AM


Rabbi Rudin

(G-d) called to Moses and spoke to him…

The first word of this week’s Torah portion, VaYikra, is one of the most immediate and evocative of the entire scripture.   Take a look at the way it appears in every Torah scroll in the world:

VaYikra- G-d is calling….   


Notice how the Aleph, the letter of the Divine presence, appears small and above the line and emphasizes that G-d calls to each one of us uniquely to a higher life.


G-d calling.  Why?  How?  Just to say hello?  I’m here?  We know better.  G-d is not calling for acknowledgement, fealty or allegiance.  G-d is calling for us to act. 


And when we do, when we hear and heed and DO we may, just may, get one of those fleeting moments where we feel the presence of the Divine.


Yesterday morning, after a long night’s sleepless flight punctuated by an unscheduled landing for a medical emergency in Milan, a group of us- folks from Adath Shalom and fourteen new friends from Atlanta, pulled into the orchards of 83 year old Rachamim Keter of the town of Nes Tziona in central Israel.  Rachimim’s family has for generations grown some of the sweetest citrus fruits anywhere.  But this year, with the savage attack by Hamas terrorists on Israel’s southern towns and the kidnapping of hundreds of innocent men, women and children and the resulting war, Rachamim’s orchards are in the balance as well.


Palestinian Arab workers from Gaza used to help Rachamim and earn a livelihood for their families by picking the ripe oranges, clementines, grapefruit and lemons for the local and international markets.  But now the once open border is closed.  The fruit harvest is in danger of rotting on the trees.


So groups like ours have been coming by for a few days, hours or longer and climbing ladders, filling canvas shoulder bags with the luscious fruit and carefully pouring them into crates. 


In my younger days I had spent countless hours in the orchards of the Jezreel Valley in northern Israel up in the trees.  Now, here I was again, forty years and plenty of creaky joints later back at it.  And so was our group.  Meeting Rachamim, hearing his words of gratitude to us: “We are not taking it for granted that you have come all this way into Israel to help us in this time of war and fear.  We are not taking it for granted-” he said it over and over again, smiling and shaking his head in wonder.


And I wondered a bit too.  Here we were, a group of older American Jews, just off the plane, zero sleep, wearing the clothes we had flown in, trudging out down the brown rutted path to the orchards.  Were we really going to do this? 


The day was cool and cloudy and the grass and trees nearly luminously green and glistening from the abundant rains.  An aroma from the Garden of Eden came from the fruit and blossoms and suddenly, I saw all the stiffness and care fall from the limbs of the travelers.  Their eyes shone. 


Like excited teenagers they joyfully raced up the ladders or swarmed up the trees.  The bags were passed down, the ladders shifted from tree to tree and in less time than I could have ever imagined, the verdant rows yielded their fruit and the crates filled.

The oddness or incongruity of the situation faded quickly, overcome by the idealism, sense of mission and energy of the laborers.  Cantor Brian and I sang some of the old songs of the Chalutzim, the early young Zionist pioneers as they made their way from the pogroms and ghettos in search of themselves and renewal.


And before you knew it, it was over.  The rows assigned to us were emptied of fruit.  Unwilling to accept any compensation, our group instead made their way to the orchard’s farmstand and members purchased several pounds of the beautiful oranges which we enjoyed back on the bus- not headed to rest but to our next destination, Tel Aviv’s hostage square, a memorial and call to action to support the families of the hostages and to advocate for their release.


Some of our group in Rachamim’s orchard- it is a land flowing with milk and honey- and the sweetest oranges you can imagine!


That's what it is like to be called and to heed the Call.  We may have been tired but we were sustained by the Call, by working the soil of the Land of our people, the land which we were dispossessed of and exiled from but to which somehow we had returned.  I felt as if sparks were flying from our fingers completing a circuit as impossible to define as it real as we plucked the fruit like blessings from the tree of life. 


And I felt like that Call came from the Still Small Voice within, responding to the direness of the hour.  And it came from the words of fire written in the Torah.  And it came from you, our nurturing and sustaining community, sending us to Israel as your emissaries to do no more and no less than to help our brothers and sisters, to hear them and comfort and help sustain them in this greatest crisis to Israel of our generation. 


The love and gratitude that has enfolded us is incredible.  The tales and tears of the tragedy that have been shared with us are heart-wrenching. 


But it is you, members of the community that launched our journey that have provided the strength and will to help.  It has been a life-changing privilege to serve as your shlichim, your emissaries. 


For me, the lesson of the Parsha is that we are all called.  Hear that ancient call- that Still Small Voice and never doubt that when we answer it together, miracles can ensue-


Shabbat Shalom-

Sat, May 25 2024 17 Iyyar 5784